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“Winning is not a priority at Dartmouth.”

Don Mahler of the Valley News ran a three-part series on Dartmouth athletics (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) last week. His critique is spot on: we need a first-class Athletics Director who can inject energy and innovation into our slow-moving program.

The new athletic director needs to be someone with the personality and vision to pull off a drastic makeover, working with a mandate to do what it takes to change a culture of losing.

First of all, Dartmouth has to embrace the belief that athletics is a valuable component to the college experience, and that winning makes the experience all the more valuable. Excellence is excellence, in the classroom or on the athletic field.

“There is absolutely no educational redeeming qualities in chronic losing,” said Ted Leland, who served as Dartmouth’s athletic director from 1983-89. “You’ve got to give athletes the opportunity to be successful. They must feel that they have a chance to win.”

A winning athletic tradition does not detract from the academic mission of a college, but rather enhances it. Stanford, Princeton, Cornell, Williams — they all subscribe to that theory. Other schools in the Ivy League extol the successes of their student-athletes and believe high-profile coaches are as important as prize-winning scientists and Nobel laureates.

This comment is not a critique of today’s individual coaches or athletes — several teams have had consistent winning records over the past few years. But it does speak to the fact that a successful program requires the support of all parts of an institution, as Mahler accurately points out later on in his piece. Over the past decade, the previous administration let the rot set in on many levels, and the results are too often apparent on the scoreboard — and in the attrition rate of players from teams over the course of their four years in Hanover.

One coach’s comment in Mahler’s story sums up more than just the situation in the athletics department:

“It’s a bit of a mess,” said one current Dartmouth coach. “And I don’t see any hope in sight. It’s awful. It’s like going round and round in circles, heading nowhere.

“The general mood is to keep your head down, don’t say much and don’t expect much.”

Mahler concludes the second part of his series with an imprecation that will be familiar to readers of this space:

The new athletic director needs the promise of a free hand to make the changes that need to be made. Housecleaning will be painful, but it needs to be done.

Finally, Mahler finishes the series with a set of practical suggestions, the most important of which is to take oversight of athletics away from Dean of the College Sylvia Spears:

Today, in Dartmouth’s organization chart, the AD reports to the dean of the college — incidentally, another administrative position currently filled by an interim appointee. From what I can gather in talking to athletic administrators in and out of the Ivy League, this may not be the best way to do business. For the athletic director to wield authority and make the changes necessary, he or she needs to answer directly to the president and to have his direct backing to make personnel changes. And the AD should have a place in the president’s inner council of administrators.

Far be it for Dartblog to argue with that suggestion.

In sum, Mahler’s lengthy series lays out a textbook case of what happens to a vigorous area of campus life when it is subjected to a decade or more of inept management. As dedicated readers of this space know all too well, other examples abound.

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